Asia Update #41 - Japanese Public Bath
Way back in report #8, I reported about a Korean hot tub/spa ritual. Had a chance to try out the Japanese version this past week. I was in Nagano Prefecture of Japan (near where the last winter Olympics were at) for business and stayed at a resort while there. Seems the resort was mostly based around a natural hot spring in the area (not even any hikin trails in the area). On the list of facilities, they showed a variety of bathing options, such as sauna, hot tub, and public bath. Decided to give the public bath a try.
Public baths were what the Japanese used for bathing before each house had plumbing. So the primary reason for doing it was to get clean, but as inside plumbing became more common, they seem to often only exist in resorts and have taken on greater meaning such as perceived health benefits. The public baths are sex-segregated, which is god given that you get naked (with only a little towel to preserve modesty). I didn't know much of what to expect, so I asked my coworker and got enough details that I was comfortable that I wouldn't make some faux pas (like walk naked into some place where you shouldn't walk naked...).
The start is that you walk down to the public bath area. You can wear a kimono (every hotel room in Japan seems to have kimonos in the room) or can change at the changing room. I wore my clothes down and changed there. Turns out that this spa doesn't provide the little towels there, but you were supposed to bring a wash cloth from your room, so back to the room I went.
Now appropriately equipped with my little towel, I headed back to the public bath. Took off my clothes and walked into the bath area (modestly holding my little towel in front of me). First step is a rinse off... There was a line of little stools in front of a faucet/hand sprayer, so down I sat on one of them. Was told that you should rinse off before hitting the tub, so rinse I did. Turns out that most just use a little bucket and douse themselves with water from the tub, but no one seemed to care that I sat and sprayed away.
Then into the tub. Placed the little towel on my head (they do this so they don't lose it - not to look funny). The water was quite warm, so I could only last in it for a few minutes. Very nice feel. The public bath had a large window overlooking a beautiful forested valley and mountains, which provided a very serene setting. Added benefit is that contemplating the view helped me avoid noticing the naked Japanese guys all around me...
Out of the water and back to the stool. This time I am supposed to clean myself (soap, shampoo, and all). So, scrub away I did. This is where you use the little towel - you load it with soap and use it to lather yourself up. Got myself nice and clean. Rinsed and then dried off (not with the little towel, obviously) and back to my room.
Thankfully, I got through the whole process without making any big mistakes. And it was rather enjoyable, so I did it again the next morning instead of taking a shower in my room. Even wore the kimono from my room down to the public bath, though I did feel a little self conscious as I walked in the hallway with just a kimono on. Now I normally feel a little self conscious (I was the only white person at the resort, and going by the lack of English skills, I think other foreigners would be few and far between), but this seemed to notch things up a bit.
Got to visit Matsumoto Castle before we headed back to Tokyo. Very interesting, particularly because I had recently finished reading the book Shogun. Gave me an inside feel for much of the setting for the book.
Check out the, um, soda machine I saw in town. I guess underage drinking is not as much of an issue in Japan as it is in the U.S.
An American guy I rode with in Korea is going to do an epic Bike Around the World for a Cause thing next year. Sounds like one hell of an adventure for he and his friend. Check out their web site at http://www.peacepedalers.com.
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